PERFORMANCE || 1970, UK || Drama || Directed by – Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg / Written by – Donald Cammell / Produced by – David Cammell, Sanford Lieberson / Music by – Jack Nitzsche / Cinematography by – Nicolas Roeg / Editing by – Antony Gibbs, Brian Smedley Aston, Frank Mazzola, Tony Palmer / Art direction – John Clark / Starring – James Fox, Mick Jagger / Running time: 105 mins.
Performance was originally supposed to be either a standard gangster flick, or a Rolling Stones type of musical vehicle. But as director Donald Cammell developed the initial concept, it underwent a series of transformations that turned into something very different, and quite hard to altogether categorize.
While it does indeed start off as a hard boiled and gritty type of gangster flick about a violent and sadistic man Chas who lands into trouble after a hit that was never supposed to happen finds himself on the run from his peers. But it descends into much stranger and different territories after he finds the perfect hideout in the home of a former rock and roll star, a mysterious man played by the charismatic Mick Jagger in his fiction feature debut, who is looking for a spark that might inspire him in his artistic endeavours.
Performance is a film that blends many different elements, which spin from the cinematically conventional, to a more impulsive and psychedelic type of viewing experience. There is a certain impulsiveness about it that makes it feel all the more unpredictable and vivid, and that also seems to be a result of the production itself, and the improvisation that gets wilder as it progresses. All this however, never goes over the top, and the film is kept together by an interactive concept that seems to examine in a clever and intelligent way a theme of identities, whether it is identity crisis or the idea that we are all, always playing a role.
The film’s look, for which Nicolas Roeg was awarded his first directorial credit, is also very trendy and representative of its time. It is an imagery of decadence that suits the style of the times, and a certain romanticism of the sex, drugs and rock and roll culture that defined it.
Upon release, Performance was not well received, and for years it remained a mysterious object, only talked about for the rumours that surrounded its production, such as the inclusion of a real sex scene between Anita Pallenberg and Mick Jagger, or speculation that the shots of the actors taking drugs were real. It was only in the nineties that the film was rightfully re-evaluated, and seen as an exciting and meaningful experimentation, the kind which was simply misunderstood and ahead of its time, but deeply influence British cinema that would follow it. – 5/5